- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Oct 2016
From the cover
Not Drowning but Waving
Or: my beginnings, my childhood and how my relationship with my dad was a bit tidal
We think mums and dads know it all. But in fact they're making it up as they go along. Every day, busking it, winging it, putting on a brave—sometimes false—face. It's something I suspect throughout my childhood, yet it's only confirmed in adulthood, and only with a little help from the Other Side.
One gray autumn evening in 1977, I go to see a medium. She lives in Victoria, central London, round the insalubrious back of Buckingham Palace, in a flat near the top of a tower block. It's no gypsy caravan, but I suppose it does mean she's nearer the heavens.
I don't have a particular affinity for spirits—that will come much, much later, and be less an affinity than an addiction—but my wife, Andy, is somewhat that way inclined. My mum, too, is no stranger to the Ouija board. At our family home on London's suburban western edges, my mum, nana and auntie, along with my so-called uncles Reg and Len, enjoyed many a happy late-fifties and early-sixties evening summoning the dearly departed from beyond the veil. Better that than the meager monochrome offerings flickering from the newfangled television set.
The reason for my and Andy's visit to this high-rise Madame Arcati: a naughty dog. Ben, our beautiful boxer, has a habit of dragging from under our bed a pile of electric blankets. We're holding on to these for our kids—Joely, five, and Simon, one—for when they stop wetting the bed and need a bit of extra warmth. It has not dawned on me that the folded electric blankets promise more than a toasty bed—bent filaments can break and catch fire. Maybe Ben knows this.
Andy comes to the conclusion that there's a supernatural element to Ben's nightly ritual. He's probably not clairvoyant but there's clearly something we humans don't know.
At this time I'm manically busy, touring with Genesis—we've released our album Wind & Wuthering and I have only recently taken over singing duties from Peter Gabriel. I am, accordingly, often an absent husband and father, so I feel perennially on the back foot when it comes to matters domestic and familial. I duly offer no opposition to this unorthodox course of action.
So off to a medium we go. Into bustling Victoria, up in the tower-block elevator, a ring on the doorbell, small talk with the husband, who's watching Coronation Street. It couldn't be any less spiritual. Finally he pulls himself away from the TV and gives me a nod: "She'll see you now . . ."
She's an ordinary-looking housewife, perched behind a small table. No sign of any other-worldly virtues. In fact she appears totally normal, in a matter-of-fact way. This completely throws and somewhat disappoints me, and my skepticism now comes with a topspin of confusion, and just a shade of grumpiness.
As Andy's I Ching readings have informed her that it's the spirits on my side of the family that are the dog-botherers, I draw the short straw and enter the chamber of the supernatural. Through gritted teeth I tell the medium about Ben's nightly antics. She nods gravely, closes her eyes, waits for a meaningful length of time, then finally replies, "It's your dad."
"Yes, it's your dad and he wants you to have a few things: his watch, his wallet, the family cricket bat. Do you want me to ask his spirit to speak through me? Then you could hear his voice. But sometimes the spirits don't want to leave and that becomes a bit awkward."
I splutter a no. Communication with my father wasn't at its best when he was alive. Talking to him now, nearly...